Washington Gives Way on Iran’s Nuclear Bomb, Therefore Backs ElBaradei’s Reappointment

The Bush administration has given up on the battle against Iran’s nuclear armament. This is the meaning of Washington’s decision to back the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA’s board vote Monday, June 13, to reappoint Mohamed ElBaradei as agency director for a fifth term.
Israel thus finds itself alone in the ring with the Iranian nuclear menace. Nothing now remains to stop Tehran attaining its goal of a nuclear bomb or bombs by the end of 2006 or early 2007 – except for the extreme eventuality of direct Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The question is what brought about this drastic reversal in Washington? And why are Bush administration officials willing now to endorse ElBaradei after reviling him for four years (not forgetting the row over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction) as responsible more than any other international agent for letting Iran run off with a military nuclear capability?
One answer is that US president George W. Bush’s team now believes time is running out too fast for preventive action to take effect – and not only on Iran.
Towards the end of President George W. Bush’s first term in late 2004, the mood in Washington was upbeat; a second term was seen as the chance to bring the administration’s military and diplomatic objectives to fruition. This has been replaced today by a sense in administration circles that the tough projects, like the campaign against al Qaeda, the Iraq war, the chances of thwarting the forward march of North Korea and Iran towards a nuclear bomb, the creation of an independent Palestinian state and an Israel-Palestinian peace treaty, cannot be resolved by 2008. There is a willingness to leave solutions in abeyance for the next occupant of the Oval Office.
Top officials Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley are therefore busy consolidating the administration’s achievements to date and working on stopgap remedies that will hold up until after the next presidential election. Bush will then wind up his presidency on a high note and the public will expect his successor to solidify his gains.
On Iran in particular, the Bush administration has concluded that turning back the clock on its nuclear bomb project is no longer realistic. Washington is therefore bending all its diplomatic and intelligence-related resources to the goal of delaying the actual production of the bomb as long as he is president.
In adopting this posture, the Bush administration is not operating in a vacuum.
On the other side of the Atlantic, most of the European leaders on whom Bush relied are groping for solid ground. With the exception of French President Jacques Chirac, the European Union in early May threw in the sponge on the diplomatic strategy which Washington had adopted as the keystone of its effort to pre-empt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
UK prime minister Tony Blair, who is hanging on by a thread after a disappointing general election in May – and not generally expected to last full term, is one of the few British politicians still staunchly standing by UK-US strategic collaboration on the Iranian issue. Blair is making a well-publicized tour of European capitals in the run-up to this week’s EU crisis summit on the anti-constitution groundswell and his assumption of the Union’s presidency for six months on July 1. But his foreign secretary Jack Straw, according to debkafile‘s Washington and Tehran sources, has been raring for some weeks now to inform the Iranians that Britain and Europe at large no longer oppose their nuclear designs. He is stopped only by Blair’s objections.
In Berlin, were it not for Gerhard Schroeder’s dire straits and impending snap election, his foreign minister Joschke Fischer would have long ago been on the same flight to Tehran as his British counterpart.
Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is fast losing points, while Chirac was set back critically by his country’s refusal to ratify the EU constitution. All in all, the health of the European alliance suddenly looks pretty fragile. This renders pretty futile the strenuous efforts Bush and Rice invested in the past year to mend fences with European leaders. Paradoxically, aside from the British premier, the French president is the only substantial European leader willing and able to ally himself with Washington’s effort to vanquish Iran’s nuclear ambitions, defeat Syria and bring the New Lebanon exercise to a positive conclusion.
But Washington is under no illusion that this support is enough for a uniform international front capable of eliciting UN Security Council economic sanctions stringent enough to deter Iran from implementing its nuclear plans. Even if this front was feasible, the prospect of sanctions recedes in the face of potential concerted Russian and Chinese opposition.
The deepening animosities prevailing in relations between the White House and the Kremlin and Moscow’s assistance in Iran’s nuclear projects, including the sale of nuclear fuel and technology, makes a Russian veto of any Security Council penalty against Tehran more than likely.
China too is strengthening its economic ties with the Islamic Republic and sees itself as a big buyer of Iranian oil. Beijing moreover entertains objections in principle to UN sanctions.
The heads of the Islamic regime in Tehran sense a major victory in the offing for their plans for a nuclear weapon. They see another eighteen to twenty-four months’ grace to complete their project undisturbed. For Israel, Washington’s quiet retreat from its campaign against an Iranian bomb spells disaster, the collapse of yet another vital strategic asset intrinsic to the Sharon government’s defense posture.

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